Born 100 years ago today: broadcast personality Sandy Becker (1922-1996).
Becker enjoyed both a national and local (NYC) show biz imprint over a quarter century in the industry. After studying at NYU with a pre-med major in the late ’30s, he was working full time in radio by the early ’40s, no doubt propelled there by his naturally rich and clear voice. The radio show he was most closely associated with was Young Doctor Malone, where he started out as an announcer early in the decade. In 1947 he took over the title role from Alan Bunce, playing it until the show went off the air in 1960. The television version ran from 1958 through 1963; Becker had been offered the lead in that, as well, but declined, because by that time he was deep into something else.
The “something else” was his own show, or shows, to be more accurate. From 1955 through 1968, Becker was a local NYC children’s television personality, with several kids programs at WABD and WNEW. He played numerous funny costumed characters, and also voiced a wide variety of puppets, usually in the wrap-arounds before and after showings of movies and cartoons. His characters included Hambone, Norton Nork, Schatzie, Dr. Geshundheit, Henry Headline, The Big Professor et al.
At the same time, Becker worked in national television, mostly as an announcer, and as a voice-over actor in cartoons. He was the announcer of Robert Montgomery Presents (1953-55) and Armstrong Circle Theatre (1954-55). In cartoons, he was the voice of Mr. Wizard on King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. Perhaps of greatest interest to contemporary readers and film fans in the Age of MCU, he was the voice of Captain America/Steve Rogers on the 1966 animated series, making him the key interpreter of the character in the period between the 1944 serial’s Dick Purcell, and the current Chris Evans. (He was therefore the Middle Captain America…which is quite a different thing from the Captain Middle America, whatever that may be.) Becker’s last work in animation was the Go-Go Gophers (1968), a pretty clear F Troop send-up, which began as a regular segment on Underdog, then was given its own timeslot. This western parody starred Becker, Kenny Delmar, and George S. Irving. Becker voiced his character Okey Homa as a John Wayne impression.
Becker was only 46 when he dropped both his TV shows and his major voice-over work, although he continued to announce on local radio, and to advise other kiddie shows. This seems awfully young for a semi-retirement, but with a little bit of imagination I think you’ll realize that he worked AWFULLY hard during his principal decades of activity, often working on several shows, in several different media at the same time. And the sort of projects he would undertake were demanding. For example in 1961, he debuted a one-man puppet version of A Christmas Carol for New York TV audiences. Wrote it, directed it, produced it, played all the characters. Sounds exhilarating but exhausting! Becker was 74 when he was felled by a fatal heart attack in 1996.
Much of Becker’s on camera TV work has been lost, indeed was never preserved, but fortunately there are numerous clips of him in action to watch (and hear) on Youtube.
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To learn more about entertainment history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.